The Real Danger in 'A Civil Action'

Project to promote the public health system with the media

From 1998 to 1999, Pyramid Communications, Seattle, conducted media outreach effort promoting an efficient and effective public health system. The effort centered around the nationwide release of the movie, A Civil Action.

The book on which the movie was based focused on a lawsuit brought by families in Woburn, Mass., for environmental pollution allegedly linked to a cluster of cancers in the community. The movie, while focusing on the plaintiffs' lawyer's story, also focused on the environmental health risks, not the public health system as a whole.

This project addressed concerns within RWJF's Turning Point program—a national program to promote the reorganization of state and local public health agencies—that the film's extensive media coverage would neglect the issue of broader, system-wide efforts to change public health agencies.

The attention created by this film presented an opportunity to educate the media about the modern threats to public health.

Key Results

  • Working with staff at the Turning Point national program office, Pyramid conducted extensive research in four areas of public health and compiled statistics in four states selected as key to this effort.

  • Pyramid developed an outreach packet (press kit).

  • Finding a high level of skepticism among public health officials about media interest in public health and a reluctance to take a proactive approach to the media, Pyramid recommended:

    • A media or presentation-skills training program to help Turning Point grantees become more comfortable in a proactive relationship with reporters.
    • The strengthening of relationships between state public health agencies and Turning Point grantees.